Families as Navigators and Negotiators

In a 2010 article, “Families as Navigators and Negotiators: Facilitating Culturally and Contextually Specific Expressions of Resilience,” Ungar explores the concept of resiliency as a process achieved by families through finding resources and effectively negotiating for them. Ungar explains that the achievement of resilience can look different for people from different cultures based on culturally relevant definitions of positive outcomes and culture specific methods of reaching outcomes. The author discusses ways in which social workers encourage resilience within diverse populations on different levels of social work while operating from a de-centered point of view. Ungar is effective in making clear that there are defined concepts that indicate potential resilience, citing Rutter’s 1987 “Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms,” while maintaining that the ways in which these mechanisms are achieved, or negotiated for, are dependent on culture. Summary

Ungar (2008), defines resilience as “…both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided and experienced in culturally meaningful ways” (as cited in Ungar, 2010, p. 425). This definition stands in contrast to the thought of the “resilient child,” who is able to overcome adversity based on her or his personal strength (Walsh, 1998). Looking at resilience in this way opens the possibility of positive outcomes up to every individual with little focus on individual character traits; resilience is in turn seen as both a process and an evaluation of available resources instead of an attribute (Ungar, 2010; Walsh, 1998). Rutter also explains resilience as a process, outlining four protective mechanisms related to it: reducing the impact of risk by helping individuals cope better; reducing the negative chain reactions that follow risk exposure; establishing and maintaining self-esteem and self-efficacy; and opening up opportunities for individuals to realize their potential (as cited in Ungar, 2010, p. 423).

These factors are stated to improve outcomes for all individuals, however are not necessarily achieved in the same manner across different groups who hold different values. Masten, Powell, McCubbin and McCubbin point out that culture can be resilience fostering, stating that extended families, religious structures, and ethnic social systems encourage adaptive behavior, while conversely, Van der Walt and Bowman discuss the oppressive nature of other cultures (as cited in Theron, et al., 2011, p. 801). These cultural variances are important to social workers when planning interventions on all levels. On the micro level, the author states that interventions should be culturally relevant in order for clients to engage and on the macro level he points out that advocacy plays an important role in addressing injustices such as unavailability of resources to people in certain areas or the provision of services that could promote resiliency in ways that make them inaccessible to certain cultures (Ungar, 2010, p. 433). Taking these issues into account, resiliency can be a reality for anyone. The Systems Theory Perspective

Systems Theory hypothesizes that all members of a family make up a system or a “linked whole,” and all systems are subsystems of larger systems (Hutchison, 2013, p. 39). Systems have unique identities with unique boundaries and are parts of larger systems. Bertalanffy argued that “…an element is best understood in relation to its constituent parts (subsystems) and in relation to larger or more complex elements of which it is a constituent part” (Kondrat, 2012, General Systems Theory Section. para 2). Bertalanffy’s argument applies to resilience because as Ungar explained, helping individuals’ abilities to achieve resilience is largely dependent on having an understanding of their backgrounds in order to create interventions that make sense to them and that are actually effective, an example of understanding people as part of the systems and suprasystems that they are a part of. Families and individuals attempting to achieve resilience can be described as subystems of larger systems.

According to Hutchison (2013), many systems have boundaries that indicate who is in and who is out (p. 39). The systems idea of boundary is pertinent to the culturally competent resilience model because in many cases boundaries can keep families away from resources that could be employed to help them be resilient. In the same way, in cultures where these boundaries tend to be more open or loose, individuals may be more well-equipped with the skills they need to access resources. Luhmann in his 1987 work on systems theory touches directly on the idea of culture and closed systems proposing that as systems become very complex, they become more and more closed to each other (as cited in Hutchison, 2013, p. 41). Luhamnn posits that with the development of culture and languages within a closed system they become unable to receive feedback from other systems. On the individual level, this could manifest in the inability of an individual or family to fare well unless met with culturally specific interventions which Ungar emphasizes the importance of. The Ecologial Perspective

Ungar’s article also relates to the ecological theory of human behavior. As outlined in Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda (2012), the ecological perspective is concerned with the transactions that take place between individuals and their environments (p. 33). Brofenbrenner defined the ecological approach to human behavior as the “scientific study of the progressive, mutual accommodation, throughout the life course between an active, growing human being, and his or her environment” (as cited in Green, 1999, p. 260). Green (1999) goes on to explain the this perspective is built upon social work’s interest in working with individuals as people within their environments. This speaks clearly to Ungar’s argument that resilience can be addressed in teaching clients new ways to navigate their resources but never forgetting the importance of understanding in what ways an individual’s surroundings can affect her or him.

One of the basic assumptions of the ecological perspective is the people need to be understood within their natural environments and settings. When he gives the example of Romanian orphans who were studied, Ungar (2010), demonstrates that the only possible way to understand their outcomes was too look at their settings. One-hundred-thirty-one children were followed, and the most severely disturbed of these children were the only who continued to show gains in functioning. It was because these children continued to qualify for added resources that they continued to improve. Walsh (1998) defines resilience as a process of endurance; Greene (1999) also emphasizes that the ecological viewpoint is concerned with process connecting the two once again. Finally, ecological theory brings forth the idea of “goodness of fit,” which people desire within their environments (Robbins, et al., 2012). When achieved, this “fit” allows individuals and their surroundings to adapt to one another likely facilitating an environment conducive to overcoming negative outcomes. Importance of Consideration of Differences in Resilience

Ungar’s work is important because it informs the field of social work that resilience is available to all people who receive the proper support and advocacy. The idea of the “strong person,” who is invulnerable to the odds is still very present and it is important for thinking to shift in order to consider the appropriate types of services for people in negative circumstances. The ideas presented in the article are relevant on all levels of practice which is important as well. This study is important as well in America because it is such a diverse nation; as social work professionals it is important to be vigilant at all times concerning the implications of culture on engagement of individuals in services and individuals’ abilities to participate.

The author is effective through his use of the vignette between himself and his client at demonstrating the importanceof being culturally aware. Ungar makes a point of disclosing his own cultural background which is important in understanding the context of his interactions with his client. I think that using the unedited version of the conversation with the client was a good choice, further demonstrating how culture and demonstrating culture not only sets clients at ease, but opens the door for the social worker to determine norms. The author, while making clear that resilience is not a personality trait, did not expand on what inherent traits foster resilience or add to it. The article is very interesting; the experience of seeing how resilience can be affected on the micro and macro levels by making resources available has been eye-opening. Conclusion

Ungar spends much time highlighting reasons why it is important to teach individuals and families the ability to navigate their ways to resources and subsequently negotiate for them. It is important for social workers to understand the people they work with within the context of where they are coming from, de-centering themselves. Doing so will allow clients the space
that they need to figure out what will and will not work for them.

Green, R. (1999). Ecological perspective: An eclectic theoretical framework for social work practice. In R. Green, Human behavior theoy and social work practice (pp. 259-299). New Brunswisk: Transaction Publishers. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from https://usc.ares.atlas-sys.com/ares/ares.dll?SessionID=P215238707Y&Action=10&Type=10&Value=68917 Hutchison, E. D. (2013). Essentials of human behavior: Integrating person, environment, and the life course. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. Kondrat, M. E. (2012). Encyclopedia of Social Work. (T. Mizrahi, & L. E. Davis, Eds.) New York, NY: NASW Press. Retrieved September 25, 2013, from http://www.oxfordreference.com.libproxy.usc.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780195306613.001.0001/acref-9780195306613-e-285?rskey=Qc1KbR&result=2 Robbins, S. P., Chatterjee, P., & Canda, E. R. (2012). Comtemporary human behavior theory: A critical prespective for social work, third edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson. Theron, L., Cameron, C. A., Didkowsky, N., Lau, C., Liebenberg, L., & Ungar, M. (2011). A day in the lives of four resilient youths: Cultural roots of resilince. Youth & Society, 43, 799-818. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from http://yas.sagepub.com/content/43/3/799 Ungar, M. (2010). Families as navigators and negotiators: Facilitating culturally and contectually specific expressions of resilience. FAMILY PROCESS, 49, 421-435. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from https://usc.ares.atlas-sys.com/ares/ares.dll?SessionID=D180754925V&Action=10&Type=10&Value=68913 Walsh, F. (1998). Foundations of a family resilince approach. In F. Walsh, Strengthening family resilience (pp. 3-25). New York: Guilford Press. Retrieved September 7, 2013, from http://site.ebrary.com.libproxy.usc.edu/lib/uscisd/docDetail.action?docID=10172311

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